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from the January 2011 issue

Landscape with Strikers

At nine a.m. the few people standing around on the subway platform are watching the news on the screens provided by the Barcelona Channel. The trains comply scrupulously with the minimum-service laws. They are running half-empty and many seats are unoccupied, which would be unthinkable at this time of day any other day, when occupancy approaches that of sardines in a can.

In front of the Goya Theater, at the top of Joaquín Costa, there are fewer whores than usual. Perhaps in keeping with the minimum-service notice. The overwhelming majority of shops are closed: from supermarkets to cosmetics stores, including bakeries and auto-repair shops. On Sepúlveda a charcuterie uses the old ploy of keeping the metal gates half-open, so that if a client shows up they can serve him, but if a picketer shows up they appear to be closed. In contrast, the local bar is open, which even the strikers are grateful for. “You’re very brave,” one of them says to the owner of the establishment, as he drinks his beer. “It’s not about bravery. If we don’t work, we don’t eat.” On the sidewalks lie piles of uncollected garbage in enormous black bags, some of them split open. A beggar pisses on one of them, and when he’s finished he lies back down on his piece of cardboard.

On the Rambla, all the newsstands are closed. Even the Andean musicians and their earsplitting amps have skipped their gig on the Plaça de Catalunya where, at last, a long-awaited silence reigns. Only in front of El Corte Inglés can a few shouts and whistles be heard. Police vans stand there, and picketers stationed at every entrance to the department store are shouting “Scabs!” at the security guys and the customers—who look like tourists—who walk in or out. There are very few, because most of them give the place a wide berth when they see the scene. Strike stickers all over their chests, some picketers sit on the ground to form a barrier.

At this point, a man wearing a white T-shirt and a two-day stubble decides to go into the store but, unlike the tourists, the guards stop him. They realize he’s from the picket line and figure he wants to go in to recriminate the employees who are not striking. “I don’t see any signs saying ‘No Entry,’” he contends. A few shouts can be heard. A man from the picket line takes out his Corte Inglés credit card and raises it on high. “Look! I’m a customer, I want to go in.” But the UGT union shield on his cap gives him away. As they still refuse to open the door, the clamoring of his fellow picketers grows behind him: “We want to go in. We want to go in.” As often happens when people chant, after a while the slogan evolves and, evincing a sudden interest in making a purchase, some begin to cry “We want to shop! We want to shop!” all the while tapping on the glass doors with their Corte Inglés cards. The employees inside the store are half-smiling and, in response, the employees outside are, too. The scene is worthy of the finest hours of the Situationist International.*

*Group of international revolutionaries founded in 1957, and which had its peak in its influence on the unprecedented general wildcat strikes of May 1968 in France.

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